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The legend of Lizzie Borden

I’ll confess that, beyond the little nursery rhyme, I didn’t know too much about the story of Lizzie Borden, but it appears that much of Craig William Macneill’s Lizzie is conjecture. So to catch you up to speed in case you never heard it, here goes: Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

The resultant messy scene from this bit of New England gothic folklore is shown in the first images of this gripping, well acted and sharply written drama. We then flash back six months, just enough time for Macneill to get audiences...well, I won’t exactly say cheering for the eventual act of violence, but at least understanding.

The Borden House is one of the wealthiest in their small Massachusetts town. Though it’s 1892, Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) has yet to have set up electric lights. “Father prefers it in the dark,” Lizzie says to a gossipy woman when she goes out – unescorted! – to the theater one night. Lizzie, a marvelous role for the abundantly talented Chloë Sevigny, is gasping for breath in that house, but her father is strict and her stepmother (Fiona Shaw) and older sister Emma (Kim Dickens) do little for her desire to be independent.

Enter the new maid, Bridget (Kristen Stewart). Fresh from Ireland, she’s immediately dubbed ‘Maggie’, just to keep things simple. Lizzie, however, calls her by her real name, then starts teaching her to read. Meanwhile, Andrew visits Bridget’s bedroom in the night and, grotesquely, encourages her to “be a sweet girl”. There is no way for Bridget to refuse his advances.

The main stretch of Lizzie is a slow burn, showcasing the many insidious ways the cruel abuses of power (patriarchal power, specifically) can break the human spirit. When Lizzie and Bridget share an intimate moment, it is one of the few glimpses of tenderness in an otherwise brutal household. But it just spells further doom for these two characters.

If the Borden murders went the way portrayed here, well, you’ve got to hand it to Lizzie for thinking it through. I’m not saying it’s right to hack your father to death, but if you were going to do it, and in an era before you could watch CSI, her scheme was certainly the way to go. Whether you want to applaud when the deed is finally done is entirely up to you.

Courtesy – Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian

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Directed by: 
Craig William Macneill
Running Time: 
Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Kim Dickens
Official site: 
Screenplay by: 
Bryce Kass

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